The Lab, along with several of the UC campuses, is participating in a trial of a smartphone-based app that uses location technology to notify a person if they have been in the proximity of someone who has a positive test for COVID-19. Participation is voluntary and no personal data will be shared.
The app uses Google Apple Exposure Notification technology specifically for its privacy protection. While this is a small trial, designed to work out issues, the state plans to quickly encourage all Californians to participate as a means of slowing the transmission of COVID-19.
This will not replace contact tracing. Contact tracing is critical, but this will augment tracing by providing notification to the person you may have been near, such as in a restaurant, but wouldn’t know their name so they could be contacted if you tested positive.
The Lab’s Adam Stone brought this technology to the Lab as one way to slow the transmission of COVID-19.
Why is the Lab participating in the trial, and what is the major goal?
The state asked UC San Diego to lead the testing, refinement, and deployment of exposure notification. After UCSD and UC San Francisco completed successful rollouts in October, the Lab and seven other UC locations were invited to join the test. We get the benefit of early access to this technology and our use and feedback will help guide the broader technology rollout. We’ve already been able to provide useful feedback from Lab staff on confusing parts of the installation process.
How does the system work?
It’s quite clever. At a high level, your phone creates random keys that change frequently and, via Bluetooth Low Energy, exchanges those keys with other nearby phones. Once the phone has recorded 15 minutes of “nearness” to another phone in a 24 hour period, it records the key. Later, if someone tests positive for COVID-19, they can voluntarily enter a code into their phone that uploads their random keys from the past 14 days to a server. Others can check their phone’s recorded keys against that list – and if there’s a match, they can get a notification that they may have been exposed with instructions on what to do next. During the pilot, LBL Health Services is the source for the positive diagnosis keys, so it’s important to call them if you receive a positive test result. It’s a pretty simple concept but it’s been implemented in a way that really takes into account security and privacy.
How does the technology work properly without exposing my personal information?
By using anonymized keys and changing them frequently, the system is designed to preserve individual privacy. No location information is recorded, just information about other phones your phone has been near. And then for the actual exposure notification, users are checking their recorded anonymous keys against keys that were later found to be associated with a COVID-19 positive individual. The Lab has no access to any information associated with the Exposure Notifications system. Interestingly, we won’t even know how successful we were in adopting it at the Lab since we will never have access to anything other than aggregate adoption data across UC during the pilot – and that is only for those that consent. If people are interested in learning more about the privacy protections, either at a general level or down to the details of the protocols for key exchange, all the information is linked from the Lab’s site at go.lbl.gov/can.
See more at this video: How it works